Today is mainly teapots: photographing ceramics with Fuji X system.

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Clive Bowen is one the U.K’s most renowned and respected potters. He makes earthenware pots made from Devon red clay dug from the banks of the river Taw, thrown and slip decorated before firing them in huge woodfired bottle kilns. Following centuries  old techniques these ceramics are wonderfully utilitarian yet each unique in character, glaze and design. Today Clive is making mainly tea-pots. These are tricky little blighters. They line up on a wooden board, each perfectly thrown, the tiny spout crafted and cut so that it pours correctly and the handle shaped and attached securely, the lid correctly sized and alined.. It takes a lifetime of skill and trust in the material to get these right.  Every stage of studio pottery is crucial: preparing the raw material, throwing the clay, decorating, glazing, stacking the kiln and firing. Each stge frought with hazards and serendipity. But for now I am not going to talk about Clive or pottery; his story is for another day . .. any one who wants to know more can let me know. Instead this post is about photographing ceramics.

Studio Pottery is born of Earth and made from fire. It requires space to breath and to come alive.  The colours glow and glimmer.  Of course I could take these shots in a studio environment with back lights and strobes, umbrellas and stands and get sharp crisp images but for me the life of the pot, of the craft and skill that goes into it’s making, the energy of the piece would be lost.

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As you photographers know taking images of shiny things or surfaces is a nightmare. Every light source is reflected off the surface.  So I never use flash or soft box but stick with natural light,  North Facing if possible. I have tried back lighting but this just makes the image look naf and dumbs down frame centre where you actually want to show case the pot or cluster. On my Fuji XF 35mm lens I use a polarising filter, which sometimes helps to avoid blown out light hot-spots. I am not necessarily interested in the finest detail as these shots are not going to pixel peeped or printed to huge size. What I do need though for product photos,  is consistency.  Therein lies a difficulty when every pot is different, depth of glaze,  colour from dark to light, shininess, form and shape. To overcome this I shoot in jpeg mode not raw, this is because the Fuji film simulation modes are so reliable I know my colours will  be matched whenever I am shooting. I use velvia for a standard look. Classic chrome is my favourite, but not for ceramics. Similarly I find it easier to use auto. white balance rather than use a grey card.  I keep an eye on iso when shooting but don’t mind if it creeps up. Fuji jpeg noise at high iso can give a grain like look which again does not necessarily detract from my final image.

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Today I am photographing new work by Clive for a flyer to advertise an exhibition in Japan. His pots are being shown alongside  ceramics by Bernard Leach and other well known potters.  It’s early morning, for a few moments the sun is out. I have set up a super large jar with a couple of jugs alongside for scale. Stopped down to f5.6 so as to get some depth of field. [Wide open on the XF35 1.4 means half the pot will be out of focus] I take a couple of shots, Blimey! the lens is hunting like crazy for focus, light is reflecting off every surface. Grr! who wants sun?  I always take back-up images of every pot or cluster with a second camera. Today I use the original X100. The filmic quality of it’s sensor is still brilliant,  sometimes it is the only camera I ever need. Sure. the trusty little beast nails focus immediately, captures the shot where the 35mm couldn’t.  I move everything into the kiln area, where it is almost dark, light source.. one open door. Even here I underexpose by one stop, givening me better depth of colour and detail in darker areas on processing.  On blown areas I huff on the pot,  slide back about six feet and dash off the shot.  Breath on pot again.. repeat.  Some folk I understand rub soap or some other gunge on the ceramic to dull it down. That doesn’t work for me because the final image comes out flat and lifeless. My quick blast of warm breath takes the shine off for just long enough.

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I have to take a couple of shots of Clive in the workshop. There is strip, natural and tungsten lighting from all over the place. I turn everything off and just use light from the window which is covered by a lovely film of red clay dust. No room in this dynamic, creative area for a tripod so everything is handheld. For those who are interested my settings are as follows: sharpness plus 1, colour neutral zero, shadows and highlights neutral, auto ISO with shutter speed set at 80 slowest, dynamic range 200. I use single focus mode with the focus point set centrally to about middle size. The smallest setting is just too small for reliable focus on a glossy ceramic surface. Photometry is set to area mode. The XF 35mm wide open fairs much better in this environment.  The XF 60mm just about manages but ISO is sky high and noise is unacceptable.  I use the X100 and the 23mm slightly wider angle works very well for shots which include both Clive and his work area. Nice light on his face hands and the dark clay. I am done and out of here.

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Processing is done in Lightroom 6. I know these Earth colours by heart, green and gold, brown and ochre, and with the Fuji jpegs I only need to tidy up with some levels and a little crop here and there. I rarely add clarity, or luminence but sometimes lighten shadows and darken highlights.  I complete the edit with a little darken vignette.

 

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Last of the summer sun

Here in North Devon,  U.K. the days are drawing in, full moon and high tides are upon us. So here are a few shots taken this week before the sun retires for a while….

 

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Coast versus Mountain: a fujifilm Quest.

For we coastal dwellers mountains are austere, cold and forbidding places that block out light and have no familiar rythm. I live overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Here, our life is bounded by horizon, tides,  and sunsets. We see giant storms come through and watch wonderful and wierd cloud formations. We get lonely and lost away from the sea.

But I know for others it is different. You see mountains in their cool isolation as wondrous and mystical, you play on them,  climb them, and ski their icy sides.

As photographers we choose to take images of what we love best. Recently travelling over the Alps we stopped and gazed in awe at lofty crags. But for me I was not content until I saw, at last,  a glimpse of the sparkling Mediterranean. So there it is.   You Fuji lovers take the best images with the best cameras. Let us have more Mountains and more Ocean.

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FujiX Pro 1 with XF60mm

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Storm gathering at Instow

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a busy day at westward Ho!

Natural light portraiture with the Fuji XF60mm

The Fujinon XF60mm was one of the first three lenses made by Fujifilm for X_Series cameras.  Always regarded as super sharp however it was initially criticised for slow autofocus and excessive focus hunting.  Lens and camera firmware updates have now transformed this little beauty into a superb portrait lens. Having a little more reach than it’s big 56mm brother at 2.4 wide open it is admittedly not the fastest in the Fuji stable.  No image stabilisation either, so beware those with shaky hands.  For these trade offs, in return you get very nice colour rendition, [and now] smooth and pretty fast focussing, a classic focal length for portraits and the ability to get as close as you want to your subject.  Oh, and here in the U.K. it still can be found at about half the price of the Xf 56mm orXF 90mm.

Shooting natural light with a slowish lens can be a challenge especially in low light or murky conditions.  For the two shots I use as examples I had aperture set to wide open at f2.4, auto iso with minimum shutter speed set to 80, auto dynamic range, +2 sharp,  noise reduction set to minimum and Classic Chrome film simulation.  I set my young[ish]subjects opposite a single window as light source,  partially controlling the light with a blind, the background was red. I wanted to capture catch light in the eyes and asked them to look directly into the lens. I used area metering but underexposed by two stops using the exposure compensation dial. The first image was taken at 200 ISO at 80th sec. and the second at ISO 500 and 80th sec. Both processed as jpgs. in Lightroom 6.  I am grateful to my glamorous assistants for allowing me to show them, without brushing out their beauty spots!

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Shooting a wedding with Fuji XF60mm

Anyone who believes wedding photographers have it easy better think again.  Last weekend as a wedding guest I took my Fuji XE2 along, with XF 60mm attached and for lower light,  the XF35mm 1.4 in my pocket. The official wedding photographer had two huge camera bags with bodies and lenses bulging out. He arrived early to shoot guests as they came into the wonderful arena at 1.0pm and left at 4.0am the next morning having shot around 3000 frames. Our conversation went like this. ” Oh, for Goodness sake, what’s happened to the light, O bloody hell, I will have to change this lens, Oh Blimey, which is the brides Dad? where have they  all gone now, Ahhh. ? ” and so on. It was a wonderful overcast start to the day, saturated light but plenty of it.  No shadows all straightforward metering. Then the harsh sun broke though, reflections off the lake where the ceremony was being held, white bridesmaid dresses,  Ah, I could see him sweating.  He is kneeling down on the wet boardwalk as the bride arrives. Sun goes in, his shutter is chattering.  I guess he knows only his first shot will be in focus and properly exposed. Later we discuss how he can martial 150 guests for a group shot and where he can stand to capture the shot. Next, one huge marquee .. how do you get a decent white balance in there when the sun is in and out like a yoyo?  Two hours of food and speeches. He never stops !  By now kids are all over the place, the adults are several fizz, pimms and  vin rouge the worse for wear.  The place is chaos. We have quick word about Fuji cameras and tracking moving subjects. Light has gone and so has everyone else,  down to the dance tent with two fire pits burning, strobe lights flashing spots gleaming.  And so it continues while our photographer, who by now, has thrown in his lot with the rest of us flashes off random shots while dancing to Sex Machine.

In contrast I took 140 frames all jpgs, every one was beautifully exposed even with the varying light conditions. The XF60mm lens performed flawlessly, never hunted for focus and all the shots were amazingly clean and sharp. Later on I switched to the XF35mm, let the camera do it’s own thing and again all my images were bang on. Here are a few of my favourite shots processed in Lightroom 6 .

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